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Breaking Barriers: Meet 2 Women Pioneers of the Outdoor Industry

It wasn't all that long ago that outdoor gear was primarily made by and for males. As late as the 1990s, even women's clothing was an afterthought at most outdoor companies.

Fortunately, this has been changing fast. Women have been participating in outdoor activities in increasing numbers, and women-specific designs now mostly parallel the innovation curve of outdoor products in general.

This change did not happen by itself. It took pioneering women to shake up the conventional wisdom. Their work in turn has helped to open up more outdoor-industry career opportunities—from designers to supply chain managers—for other women.

Georgena Terry and Barb Williams are 2 of those industry pioneers. Neither had a propensity to be an activist, but both enjoyed the outdoors and came to advocate for innovation for women's gear and clothing. On behalf of the Outdoor Industries Women's Coalition (OIWC), writer Kristin Carpenter-Ogden (herself the founder/CEO of a nationwide public relations firm) profiles these women here for the REI Blog:
 
Georgena Terry of Terry BicyclesGeorgena Terry is the founder and CEO of Terry Bicycles. For her, it began with a passion for mechanical engineering. She also loved being active, outdoors and on a bike. In 1983, Terry combined her passions and built the first bike with geometry specific to female cyclists.

At the time, this was considered beyond niche. But Terry didn't let naysayers stop her vision. She literally hand-built bikes for her customers and single-handedly spread the word about the importance of bike fit and how it differs from men to women.

It's with this experience and singular focus that she offers advice to women today who want to break into the cycling, snowsports or outdoors markets as a career choice: "Be patient, have a thick skin and tell it like it is," she says.

Terry notes that her career and her life are one and the same–completely in balance. Her vision around creating, furthering and making a women's-specific bike accessible to all active women has been her life.

Today, she applauds the women who are pushing the innovation envelope today in her industry, including bike builder Natalie Ramsland and engineer/designer Anna Schwinn, to name just a couple.

When asked about the biggest obstacle for even more innovation in women's-specific products, Terry responds: "The retail side still needs to 'wake up' to the female consumer," she says. "Once they do that, it will open up (more) to women who want to work in the industry."

Barb Williams of REIInterestingly, that's where 26-year REI veteran Barb Williams has made the biggest impact. She serves the co-op as divisional vice president/general merchandising manager.

"My current role at REI was reached following a committed path through the merchandising organization here," Williams said. "I have held a number of roles, managed many varied product categories and was instrumental in influencing REI's and our industry's women's business 10 years ago."

There's a saying in the outdoor industry: What REI does, people follow.

This is an important concept. First of all, buyers at all specialty outdoor retailers are pressured to buy things that will sell – their jobs depend on that. An innovation bottleneck can ensue when buyers choose to bypass new ideas in favor of continuing to stock something that they know is a sure bet.

At the same time, buyers are also tasked to be creative and shepherd new innovation. By investing in women's-specific products at REI, Williams took the lead in the risk of investing and promoting the outdoor industry's women's products.

That's no small feat. REI's size, reach and a commitment to further women's products brought a very real value proposition to vendors who wanted to invest in women's product but may have been hesitant to take the leap.

This success took vision—and a village. Williams was surrounded with the right energy within her company.

"REI is an organization filled with strong, talented women," she said. "Starting with our inspirational CEO, Sally Jewell, and many others, we have tremendous depth in successful women."

Her workplace environment might be more of an anomaly than a norm in the outdoor industry, but she's seen women's participation steadily grow throughout the industry. But it's not enough.

"While there are many amazing women in our outdoor industry, there remains an opportunity to see more in leadership roles," Williams says.

It can be a challenge to commit to that as a female professional. Balance is crucial and a bit of a speed bump for some motivated female professionals. Williams, for one, has always put family first as a mother of 3. She steadfastly advises professional women to take every day of vacation possible. Doing so made her better in her role at REI.

"I can honestly say that investing in travel and fun as a family made me far more successful as an REI leader," she noted.

As REI continues to support innovation in women's products, more opportunities will emerge through the growth in sales and continued demand. That in turn, will bring more female leaders.

And that is music to Williams' ears.

Posted on at 2:58 PM

Tagged: Barb Williams, Georgena Terry, OIWC, Terry Bicycles, rei and women

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TOADWOMPER

Men's products are more feminine every year. Women's products are more masculine every year. Will not be long and no one will be able to tell the difference. Why push the issue. Let Nature take it's course. There are way too many Social Engineers involved im Male/Female products.

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